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Uganda’s Neglected History with Refugees and Political loose Tongues

Saturday, August 28, 2021

When ministers in uncoordinated media statements disclosed that Uganda had been asked by the US government (White House) to host Afghan evacuees, it sent the tongues of local political useful idiots to start wagging. One former presidential candidate, in ignorance, in innocent stupidity even disputed Uganda’s historical humanitarian efforts reasoning that the evacuees should travel directly to US which he said was nearer Afghanistan. Clearly, he doesn’t know the world geographical map and dynamics in international relations.

Soon, opposition politicians and social critics were falling on each with outlandish claims that Uganda had been turned into a US dumping ground because President Yoweri Museveni was experiencing a huge dent in global image and needed to use this opportunity to self-cleanse.

Some groups including government officials in the US who had been saying that Uganda was unsafe and its politics, democracy, human rights, governance and Covid19 handling are awful, have now turned corners, abandoned mendacious comments and praising Uganda’s records in hospitality because Afghanistan is an embarrassment. But surely, a country with bad human rights practices and unsafe for its citizens wouldn’t all of a sudden respect the rights of foreign refugees. 

That said, Uganda has hidden, perhaps conveniently neglected and forgotten history in hosting refugees from lands yonder like when it hosted 7000 Polish refugees in two camps, Koja (Mpunge), Mukono and Nyabyeya, Masindi districts respectively from 1942-44 during the Second World War. Nazi Germany had invaded Poland sending Polish Jews to concentration camps, while the Soviets confronting Germany sent others to far away labour camps in Siberia.

And while the “Uganda program” of 1903 by British colonial rule to give part of Uganda to Jews as their “homeland” never materialized, from 1959 to-date, Uganda has continuously hosted refugees fleeing Rwanda, Burundi, DRC, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, South Africa, South Sudan, and Kenya at its own volition. The last thirty five years under President Museveni, Uganda has been the most hospitable country to refugees in Africa,, currently hosting close to one and half million. In Rwanda’s case, Uganda picked and buried 42,254 people massacred with machetes, thrown and left to float up to Kasensero (Kagera salient), Rakai district during the 1994 genocide. This is how Capt. Mike Mukula became popular. And Uganda has had its share of refugees and so should give back. Therefore to accuse President Museveni of hosting Afghan refugees upon request, to redeem a ‘tainted’ image, demonstrates utter lack of historical facts. 

The batch of fifty-one Afghan evacuees received mid this week are a small part of the projected 2000 on transit to the US on Special Immigrant Visas (SIV) because many of them collaborated with coalition forces during the two decades and now fear possible Taliban reprisals. Matters aren’t being helped by the scary alerts, some false or exaggerated by Western groups creating pandemonium in Afghanistan. Unknown to them, many of those evacuees, may simply be seeking the good life portrayed on television. 

Many of us who were vocal opponents of the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Libya including the dubious reasons for their declaration in 2001 are very happy that the US and its NATO allies are licking self-inflicted wounds and cannot hide the shame of their arrogance and failure. In the corridors of power where big decisions are being made, it appears that due to embarrassment, the US government seems shy to take direct responsibility choosing to go through third parties, which apparently chartered the private plane that brought the evacuees to Uganda. The term refugees appears to be an inconvenient fact thus the choice for a little an obscure word “evacuees” probably to disguise the full weight of their predicament. 

The English dictionary defines an “Evacuee” as a person who has been evacuated, especially a civilian from a dangerous place in times of war or person who has escaped from captivity or is in hiding. Equally, the media text jointly worked on by the US and Uganda’s ministry of foreign affairs is carefully worded avoiding direct linkage to the US government in bringing the evacuees to Uganda. The US government is projecting a grandstanding is if only helping people in dire needed rater a responsibility and obligation on its part.

To quote verbatim from US diplomatic Mission social media page on the issue, it said “Uganda received a privately chartered flight carrying evacuees from Afghanistan. The government of Uganda and the Ugandan people has a long tradition of welcoming refugees and other communities in need. The government of Uganda has once again demonstrated its willingness to play its part in matters of international concern. We commend its efforts and those of local and international organisation in Uganda.” From internal discussions 345 evacuees had been planned to arrive in the first batch but only fifty one among them sixteen children came. Uganda was contacted by the White House, rather than the State Department to offer shelter to evacuees reflecting the importance of this unfolding tragedy, and while we acknowledge US various support to Uganda, it shouldn’t be left to play hide and seek.